In a quest for eternal bragging rights, reporter Wyatt Ryder is trying new things and expanding his skill set. This time he risks third-degree burns and throat cancer for the sake of a good photograph.
The searing pain made it clear that was not how you are meant to eat fire.
I’ve always enjoyed a bit of small scale arson and eating spicy food, so fire eating seemed like the perfect pastime for me.
My research found there was a lot that could go wrong. People end up in comas. People swallow fuel by accident and destroy their organs. People burst into flames.
It is not a joke. That is why you need a wise teacher who knows what they are doing.
Mine was Scotty Newberry, a friend of a friend who has been gobbling flames for years.
I had not even met the man and we ran into a problem. I called him from the ODT one evening. He insisted it is best to learn in a controlled environment where wind cannot blow fire into your face.
A garage, hall or walled car park works. I live in a studio room, it doesn’t even have a back yard. I was out of ideas.
Scotty pulled through with a venue after about a month of searching — Stilettos Revue Bar.
I had a fair idea of what went on there but had never been in a strip club before.
Not a lot of sexiness happens at midday on a Sunday. The black leather stools reflected the bright white lights used during closing hours.
It turns out the stage can be used for all kinds of things, including circus performances. Scotty knew the owners and had eaten fire there before for a private event.
Scotty placed a jerry can, a fireproof blanket and a variety of metal rods on the catwalk. Then he went backstage and turned on some coloured lights and party music.
My teacher was a fun guy, but very serious about safety. He told me a story about a man who was hospitalised for three months, lost his income and subsequently his house because the wind changed while he was performing.
For some reason I still went through with it.
All of the fuels we would be using were industrial engine cleaners and carcinogenic, so even if I escaped unscathed I could always develop throat and mouth cancer. Cool. Very cool. Looking forward to it.
A freshly lit wick burned brightly. The idea of putting this in my mouth was a colossal mental obstacle. I started by making friends with the flame while it burned down a bit.
I spoke to it. Got to know it. Waved my hand through the flame and tapped the wick with my palm.
Once we passed first base I licked it.
The fire wasn’t going to hurt me, as long as I wasn’t an idiot. I came to understand that. Soon we were boon companions, in it for the long haul. Now to stick it in my mouth.
The technique was simple. Stage one was to put the fire in.
Take a strong stance. Breath in deeply, then push air out as you lower the flame into your gob.
My brain understood, but my body couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get the wick deep enough into my mouth. Sometimes the burning kevlar would tap my lips, ruining my calm.
Eventually I got it, bringing me to stage two. Cut the oxygen off with my lips and exhale to blow the flame out.
You have to retain half a breath of air in your lungs as a safety precaution. This stops you instinctively inhaling while a flame is in your mouth.
That’s a really bad situation, as I found out.
I struggled to get the breathing right. When the wick finally got deep enough and I tried to try blow it out, unsuccessfully.
The flame was still in my mouth and my lungs were empty. Startled, I took a tiny breath in.
A little burst of flame shot around my mouth.
Scotty could tell it had shaken me. The roof of my mouth ached and my throat stung. I knew I was fine, but it was hard to get over the feeling of fire being pushed around your mouth.
We took a break and I drank lots of water.
I learned to exhale later, leaving me more breath to blow the flame out with and to use as a backup.
My technique got tighter and tighter. With each failure came an understand that I was safe as long as I kept my technique solid.
The fire didn’t seem to faze me anymore.
I raised the wick, took a breath in, and ate the flame.
Scotty saw it before me. He cheered excitedly. I pulled the wick from my mouth and laughed. He walked over and we clapped together the manliest, most sincere high-five of my life.
I turned to Craig, my videographer, and said "please tell me you got that on camera."
Then we lit the wick and I ate it again.
And again. And again. I was a kid in a buffet, but my only morsel was flame. It was all I wanted to do.
With the method down Scotty pulled out the 4cm wicks. He soaked them up and clicked his plastic lighter.
"I want to see if you can do the big ones," he said.
It had only been an hour, but my relationship with fire had completely changed. I saw the pillar of light burning off the 5cm wick, but shoved it into my mouth regardless.
My lips puckered around the bottom of the kelvar. The flame went out.
Scotty was loving it. He had me swap arms, handed me a second wick, did everything he could to jazz it up.
We finished my lesson with a hat-trick of eats on one knee. I ate the flame, then relit it with a second wick that burned in my other hand.
It felt incredible.
Scotty grabbed his phone to take a video and then I screwed it all up. After one success I failed to make anymore go out.
A wise man quits while he’s ahead. We put the wicks down.
Scotty was impressed by my performance. I was buzzing. He cleaned up all the spilled fuel off the floor as I found my way out the side door of the strip club.
I excitedly sent a video to my friends and family, then went home to eat something more digestible than fire.
I blew my nose. My snot was covered in soot.